I Was a Teenage Whore

by Nicole Erb, A2 Ensemble Member

Nicole Erb in our Classical Styles class. Photo by G. Wade

Nicole Erb in our Classical Styles class. Photo by G. Wade

Now that the title of this post has your attention- I know what you’re thinking. Ugh. ANOTHER production of The Crucible. Are you kidding me? I’ve seen that play a billion times (not a hyperbole). So why, oh why, would Antaeus make it part of their season? The answer is pretty simple. It’s a story we still need to hear. Really.

You’re saying to yourself, “But Nicole, every time I see The Crucible I just start thinking about that Monty Python bit where they’re screaming about witches.

I know! I totally get it- it’s really hard not to equate ducks with witches. Or you say, “But I saw the ‘quintessential’ Crucible with blah blah blah and I don’t think I’ll ever see a good production again.”  I get it. I actually saw Liam Neeson (pre-his punching wolves in the face and destroying terrorists phase) and Laura Linney as John and Elizabeth. I cried the whole time. The back wall of the set was made of window panes and as the world of the play got crazier and crazier, the panes began to fall and shatter. At the end of the play, all the remaining panes crashed to the floor and shattered. This production is one of the reasons I decided I wanted to be an actor.

So why are we doing it? The Crucible remains a story that reverberates in our world. And it’s a great big giant ensemble story (for a great big giant ensemble company). For those of you who think The Crucible is stale, consider this; we, as a nation, have seen a whole lot of violence and pain in the last couple of weeks. As a response, this TED talk started floating around the social media sites. It’s a lecture by Philip Zimbardo on ‘The Nature of Evil’.

Zimbardo’s “The Nature of Evil”

The Poppet.  Photo by A. Goodman

The Poppet. Photo by A. Goodman

Mr. Zimbardo has found  that evil is born of the intersecting of three different things: 1) personality (Abigail Williams is a teenager in an incredibly violent world, who understands the value of power) 2) environmental (Salem is a town that still lives in both colonial and Puritanical levels of fear of Indians, God, the Devil, famine, plague, etc.) 3) institutional (the conventions of Puritan society, the management of the trials themselves- the Salem witch trials are the only trials of the time where spectral evidence is allowed). This isn’t just a philosophical rambling- it’s integral to understanding both how societies create evil like the witch trials and how we’ve managed to let it happen time and time again.

Is this all too general and highfalutin’ for you? Think these characters are unrealistic? Then let’s get specific. Go back a couple weeks ago- a letter was leaked to the internet from a crazed Delta Gamma sorority president to everyone in her chapter. If you haven’t read or seen a dramatic reading of it at this point, you probably need to watch Michael Shannon’s dramatic reading (I’d even call it the “quintessential” dramatic reading of the letter).

Sorority Letter by Michael Shannon

I find myself completely surprised by the letter. When I first saw Michael Shannon’s take on the whole thing I thought, “Wow. That girl is nuts. Straight up crazy.” But when I went back and actually read the letter, I realized that even though an insane tone is being used some of what she says is probably pretty on point.

Act One of The Crucible. Photo by P. Proctor

Act One of The Crucible. Photo by P. Proctor

To get back to The Crucible– I couldn’t get Abigail’s speech to the girls in Act One out of my head. Is bringing a pointy reckoning really that different from asking someone to “tie themselves down to a chair and punch themselves in the face”? In contemporary terms it’s fairly close. And this comforts me IMMENSELY. I’ve been fighting a real battle to not make Abigail a total monster- a portrait of evil. That’s what she becomes, not what she starts out to be.  You have to keep in mind, she’s a queen bee in Salem, she’s had a REALLY hard life (Indians, smashed heads), she thinks John Proctor is going to leave his wife for her, AND she’s a child (17 in the show and 11 in real life). All these things create a perfect storm of personal crap, opportunity, and pressure. As wrong as the girl who wrote the Delta Gamma letter was, you can hear the personal stress that she is under. There’s something there that (as nutty as it is) I can empathize with- that’s how I begin to see Abigail as something other than a complete monster.

Get to the point, Erb! What I’ve been attempting to get out is that Miller’s world and our own are not that different. I’d like to think that we’ve changed a lot since the Salem Witch trials and the McCarthy hearings, but I’m not sure that we’re that fundamentally different. Human psychology is tricky that way. And what The Crucible gets at, at the most basic level, is that mounting pressure and fear.

Ann Putnam puts it best: “There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires!” Everything is conspiring against this town and these people. And in spite of that we hope. John Proctor changes. Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey stand for their principles. It’s a level of heroism that we aspire to in modern day. But when we can’t get it in life, isn’t it great to see it in the theater? I hope that you find yourself thinking John Proctor will triumph. I hope for the sake of Salem that one night the heroes win.

ERB_Nicole 2012A2 Ensemble member Nicole Erb draws back the curtain on rehearsals for The Crucible, our next mainstage production opening May 16 & 17. Tickets now on sale at www.antaeus.org

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